Why can bishops organise to condemn foodbanks but not genocide?
After the Holocaust, the whole of civilisation united behind two simple words: "Never Again". If the free world is not prepared to eradicate the Islamist evil spreading over the desert sands and pouring onto our polite and tolerant streets, the fate of the Christians of Mosul and the Yazidis of Sinjar surely awaits the genteel parishioners of Tower Hamlets. It is already unfolding in France, Germany and the Netherlands. It is naive to believe that England's mannerly history of relatively bloodless revolution can be sustained against the genocidal, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian pogroms of the Islamic State.
Whether we are in the End Times and approaching the coming final conflict we cannot know. There is a whiff of the Antichrist and sense of Apocalypse, but there are many antichrists and no man knows the day or hour. And as we pore over eschatological charts and await the Parousia, we have one mission and one calling: to proclaim the gospel, feed the hungry, heal the sick and mend the brokenhearted.
So it was a joy to read that the bishops of Leeds, Manchester and Worcester had called on the Government to offer asylum to the persecuted and destitute Christians of Iraq. "We have a tradition of offering sanctuary to people who are oppressed," explained the Rt Rev'd Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds. "And it's part of the Christian heritage of this country and the law we have established that puts an obligation on us," he continued. "We also have an obligation to at least raise with the Government the possibility that we should be offering sanctuary to Christians in Iraq who have been effectively expelled under the threat of death. The Government cannot remain silent and you cannot just issue words – you've got to put something behind that. If we can't offer sanctuary to these people, then who will? Not doing so would be tantamount to the betrayal of our moral and historical obligations."
And then these three were joined by another: "Archbishop of Canterbury urges Britain to open doors to persecuted Iraqi Christians," heralded the Telegraph. But then, silence. The bishop have received no response from the Government. This utterly damning cartoon from Morten Morland in today's Times might explain why:
Or is it, quite simply, that not enough bishops have organised and united in their righteous quest in order to generate greater publicity and so exert the greatest political pressure? Why is it that 27 bishops of the Church of England can get together to castigate Cameron via the Daily Mirror over the "national crisis" of foodbanks and "failures in the benefit system", but only three can organise themselves with the Guardian to agitate over the international crisis unfolding in Iraq and the manifest failures of the Foreign Office?
Are the Daily Mirror and the Guardian really the most persuasive media by which to lobby a Conservative Prime Minister, Work and Pensions Secretary or Foreign Secretary? Shouldn't the bishops at least be attempting to speak Greek to the Greeks? Don't they appreciate that the medium is still at least part of the message?
This is not in any sense to dispraise the efforts of the bishops of Leeds, Manchester and Worcester, or to belittle the welcome added voice of the Archbishop of Canterbury who has called out this "evil". But somebody/bodies must have done some applied administrative networking to engineer the foodbank protest and get the support of 27 bishops, whose concert of grievance was then heard at the highest levels. Why could this not have been done over the evil unfolding in Iraq?
It is, of course, too late for those who have been tortured and summarily slaughtered. What we should have said or might have done are now matters for Judgment Day. But for those who are surviving on Sinjar's mountain of hell or subsisting in the purgatorial plains of Nineveh it is not too late, and they cry out for deliverance as they weep for relief and die in their camps. It is invidious that we are prepared to condemn the cruelty and barbarism of the Islamic State but not open our borders to our suffering Christian brothers and sisters and our traumatised neighbours.
It is inconceivable that any bishop of the Church of England has not thought, prayed or preached about this. For those who believe the Government should act beyond flying out baked beans and dropping bottles of Evian, to offer sanctuary to the thousands fleeing the Jihadist terror, His Grace is prepared to act as a conduit to establish a unified episcopal voice on this appeal:
"While conflicts rage in the Middle East, we continue to pray for peace. Britain has a history of providing refuge to the oppressed. We ask the Government to offer sanctuary to Christians and others who have been expelled under threat of death."Those Anglican Bishops and Archbishops who make this appeal to the Government currently include:
Justin Welby, CanterburyOrdinaries and others include:
John Sentamu, York
Nick Baines, Leeds
David Walker, Manchester
John Inge, Worcester
Mark Rylands, Shrewsbury
Jonathan Gledhill, Lichfield
Geoff Annas, Stafford
Clive Gregory, Wolverhampton
Jonathan Clark, Croydon
Pete Broadbent, Willesden
Graham Usher, Dudley
Steven Croft, Sheffield
John Hall, Dean of WestminsterShould any bishop wish to add his name, please do so. If you think your bishop might, please contact him and request that he make his support known. Bless you.